25 Years of PowerPoint (and 25 years of Death by PowerPoint!)

Last week the BBC reported that PowerPoint is now 25 years old.  So I was just 9 years old when PowerPoint first appeared on the scene, yet I didn’t see my first PowerPoint presentation until I was 20 and in my final year at University when 1 lecturer used it, and at the time we didn’t know what it was – but was impressed by the way that slides could merge into one another (rather than the clunk, clunk of the old slide projectors) – Oh how my expectations have changed.

The shame is that 25 years on, we still have too many utterly ineffective presentations (otherwise known as Death By PowerPoint) and what makes it worse is that many people know that their presentations aren’t good yet still keep creating them, and still keep using them (and many of them give keynote presentations at e-learning or teaching related conferences – now that really annoys me!)

Someone asked me once what the secret is to avoiding ‘Death By PowerPoint’ and I replied that early in my teaching career I made a decision that was fundamentally brilliant – I made the decision to never produce a bad presentation again – If I cannot do something well with PowerPoint then I won’t use PowerPoint at all, and although this may sound overly simple, it is the solution to the problem. The trouble is that many lecturers at FE and HE in particular now feel obliged to produce a presentation for every session that they deliver – and for them to deliver without a presentation would be like turning up without any clothes on – the presentation has become a kind of security blanket that draws the audiences eyes away from them and onto the screen.

And to make the problem worse, because learning technologies are advancing so rapidly people aren’t offering PowerPoint training as much now (as it is seen as old hat) – but there is clearly a need for the training, and when I say training I don’t mean instruction in how to add slides, choose designer backgrounds, and how to make text smaller to get more on the screen, I mean training in what makes a good presentation, how to make the presentation complement the skill of the trainer not overtake it, and how to use PowerPoint as a tool that engages the learners not sends them to sleep.

I have tried to help the education community by making some PowerPoint resources available that only require an ability to copy and paste – these can be found on my website at http://www.a6training.co.uk/resources_powerpoint.php These include a 9 page good practice guide, some countdown timers for timed activities, score ladders for competitive activities and templates for text boxes that can be edited whilst in presentation mode – all good ways of engaging the learners.

My real hope is that institutions  invest time in their staff training, and don’t let PowerPoint slip off the agenda – but recognise the need (and it will be a continuing need) to upskill their staff.

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